Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chengdu Travel Guide - Pandas, Hotpot , Opera, Big Buddha, Emei and a Lantern Festival - all in one and a half days.

Chengdu Travel - for a Chengdu Travel Blog this site seems a little lacking on info regarding stuff you can actually do within the city! So here's an article, about our last guest, that puts this situation a little to rights. During this trip we were helping a traveler who wanted a very full and hectic one and half days - that would almost be a non-stop tour between her airport touchdown and take-off. By the way - she arrived during the afternoon - so this tour started around 1pm on the day that would include Pandas, Hotpot and Sichuan Opera.

It's always "fun" with airport pick-ups - late arrivals, spotting a guest in the crowd, meeting those guests, face to face, for the first time - but rarely are we already giving a tour within a hour of touchdown. But this was the case during our last assignment - a guest who wanted to be whisked from airport to Chengdu Panda center - and within 40 minutes she was clicking away at the bears.

However this part of mission also included getting our guest a young panda to hold. We'd phoned up the center - but had been told that being able to hold one of these Pandas depended on the decision of the keepers with regard to how the animal was that day - and no bookings were possible. So all we could bank on was turning up - and hoping an animal would be available.
The pic shows a younger bear - but behind glass in the baby Panda enclosure

Sometimes if you're very lucky you get to see the very small pandas - but today the incubators were empty.

Yikes!!!!!!!!!! Take a look at this pic - is that an escaped Panda on the run????

It wasn't that hard to get permission to get our young Panda picture taking opportunity - in fact we only had to wait 15 minutes before the staff set everything up.
The cost for having this opportunity is 1000RMB for a small panda and 400RMB for an adult/larger animal - and these prices are advertised as donations. The whole thing is very brief - under 5 minutes from the time you start sitting with the bear. Meggie was allowed in to take pics - while a member of the staff also shot more pics with our guest's camera.

Here's a bigger version of Panda - totally chilled out.

And lets not forget the Red Pandas - who, if anything, are more entertaining than their bigger cousins.

By the way the admission prices of the Chengdu Center has nearly doubled - up from 30RMB to 58RMB!!!!

Well after Pandas it was time to eat - eating Chengdunese. So what better than the most popular meal in town - hotpot.
Hotpot is like a giant fondue set-up - but that pot is put over a gas burner. Inside the normal Chengdu style pot we have oils and very hot and spicy spices into which you cook a whole variety of dishes (these you choose yourself). Because the normal oils are so spicy - a special pot was put in the middle, called white hotpot - which is very mild and contains far less oil.

Here's some of the food that we chose for our feast - we included kidneys and tripe, but if you're squeamish you don't have to order this kind of stuff. Otherwise we got regular meat, vegetables and a variety of mushrooms - and tofu.

There are so many Hotpots in Chengdu - but to pick the good ones look for the crowd. by 6pm a few folk had started to queue on the street waiting for an empty table.

Well after the eating came the final destination of the day - Sichuan Opera.
Here we have one of the troop about to give one of trademark moves of the style of Chinese opera - a high kick.

The opera comes with its orchestra - and the music is characterised by a great deal of gong crashing.

There's a lot of exciting stuff in these performances - quick mask and costumes changes, marionettes, circus type acts and and good helping of fire-spitting (I've left this pic slighlty bigger than the others - if you click on it, it can be downloaded - it makes great desktop wallpaper).
Like all good popular folk performances - its quite okay for the audience to give there feedback with not only "ohhhhhhhhhs" and "ahhhhhhhhs" - but also a little bit of shouting.

Here's the hand-shadow part of the show - I reckon that one should be a butterfly.

Phewwwwwww - the first half day over - and everything going to plan. Now comes day 2 - and a lot of travel. We're going to try and do Big Buddha and Emei mountain in one day - and there's a thick fog!!!!!!!!!!!
Well if you're going to do the Big Buddha quickly you have to be careful of going into the park - it can be very crowded - especially just now when kids are still on their Chinese new year's break.
If you look at this pic you can see that there is queue going around the Buddha - we could hear the park people telling folk to be careful and move on - it all looked rather clogged up.

And how did we get to see the Buddha??????????????????????

We chose that island that lies just in front of the Buddha - you get there from the Leshan side of the river - a 1 minute ferry ride costs an amazing 1RMB each way - surely one of the best Sichuan bargains going!!!
We were worried that the fog would prevent us from seeing the statue - but luckily it wasn't that bad and we got good views.

After Leshan town its a 40 minute rush up the road to Emei mountain - here the fog was also heavy and we walked the mid elevations.
This is a pic from earlier in the year - from the golden summit - if this place is clouded out you can't see very much.

After a day traveling what better to get back to Chengdu - and get some local snacks on Jinli Street. This site is labelled as an ancient street - which is a bit of a misnomer - since it's a modern built copy!!! This is a real shame, since so much that was genuine and lovely has gone under the developer's concrete - but at least it gives a little feel of how things used to be.

Here are some of the snacks - of course for us folk who travel the countryside and find the genuine stuff - very over-priced. But because these foods are becoming harder and harder to find - maybe we shouldn't begrudge paying a few extra RMB in keeping the local snacks and specialities something we can also find in Chengdu.

Being close to Chinese New Year - we also had a very colourful lantern festival.

And there's always a souvenir or two to buy - these are painted gourds .

But the highlight of this place is food - and how better to sign-off after one and a half days of hard-core, non-stop sight-seeing - than with a mouth full of squid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Chengdu Travel Guide - Luding - walking to a mountain monastery

Chengdu Travel - last week we finally got the chance to make a trip to a couple of areas we've been meaning to check out. One of these places was a monastery which is found high on a mountain that overlooks Luding - a town that's 7 hours drive from Chengdu on the road to Kangding.

Here's the start of our walk - from the edge of the town. Luding itself isn't much of a destination - and although its bustling and busy - nearly all that was old and interesting has been redeveloped into a rather sterile concrete mess. But if you take the paths that lead up the valleys you soon get out to far more appealing areas.

At the bottom of our track we ran into a local method of transport - horses. If you're living at the tops of the valleys there's no real roads - just very steep tracks that soon turn into small winding mountain paths.

At the bottom there's still farming - with lots of terraced fields. In the past there also used to be fields at higher elevations, but because of reforestation projects farming is now not allowed on the upper valley.

This picture gives you an indication of this area's climate - an orange tree

As we get higher we look down on the last of the farmland.

This is the lower monastery on our route - it only took half an hour to get here. We were told it would take two to three hours to get to the upper monastery.

However that path just kept on going - up, up and yet further up!!!!!

You need a fairly good pair of lungs for this kind of trek. The actual path was in fairly good condition - and the altitude isn't that high to cause us problems. The habitat here has turned into a scrubby dry grassland.

And, of course, as you get higher those views just get better and better. After a couple of hours trekking the snow mountains of the Gongga range come into view - but still no sight of that monastery.

The scrub of mid valley elevations started to turn into woodland as we got higher. As you can also see the sun really started to come out latter in the day.

About 4 hours into the trek - stopping for a well-earned breather!!!!

In that last pic Meggie is looking down this valley - that monastery lies somewhere in this direction.

After around 6 hours we finally arrive.

Here's the caretaker - there are no monks left at this place. It was getting on to be late afternoon - so the old guy agreed to let us stay overnight.

The old man was quite a character - 86 years old he had been some sort of Kung Fu monk. On his cheeks he had black tattoo scars that had been made while testing his powers against pain - which involved some nasty stuff with a knife!!! During the night he showed us that he could lick and touch a red-hot poker - not your usual old-age-pensioner party trick.
He was surprised I had a name - he assumed only Chinese were given names. The first - and only - foreigner he had ever seen was three years before during a visit to the town. I don't think many foreigners have made it up to this place.

This is inside one of the main temple buildings.

To hold guard we have a couple of lion statues - I suppose if you've never seen a lion then you also might produce something like this.

I actually think these lions are pretty superb - inside this one's mouth we have some kind of offering.

Our bedroom lies through that door - hardly 5 star - but whose to complain, this place is great.

Just to prove we're not staying at the Hilton - this is the bedroom lighting.

But who needs opulent luxury when you can wake up to views like this.

The sunrise is always spectacular when you have snow mountains in the scene

Chilly morning - getting a fire going. No chimney here - the smoke works its way out past the rafters.

well it looks nice and cozy in a pic - but boy your eyes start to sting after a bit. and it can't be too healthy - the after effects of warming up - feel like smoking a box of non-filter cigarettes

Outside there's plenty of fresh air. After our night up in the monastery we set off towards the bottom - another tough walk - going down is just as hard as going up. 72 hours latter - my legs are still protesting - but what a great trek.